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kenmorefield

Late Night (2019)

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This film is so firmly on the fence between "fresh" and "rotten" than I think I spent more time trying to decide that than I did actually watching the movie. It's affable, I guess, but I thought it too often presumed its own relevance and its own funniness rather than earning the chips it was trying to cash in.

 

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About half-way through the film, Molly finally nudges Katherine into doing some jokes about women and the appalling ways they are treated in the entertainment industry (and the society at large). Katherine delivers a hardly-fresh but still genuinely funny zinger about how the only movie role she would be cast in is that of Sean Penn’s grandmother in the movie where he is dating Emma Stone. The joke itself is the sort of low-hanging fruit that the film should be able to pluck any time for a quick laugh — something that reinforces the the theme of gender disparity rather than standing in for the argument in its entirety. Still, it’s delivered well by Thompson and gets a reaction…which is then instantly undercut by the screenplay having Katherine explain the joke. She is only seven years older than Sean Penn…he is significantly older than Emma Stone…oh, is that why I was laughing? The joke itself is funny because it engenders a “that’s so true” response, but then it undercuts itself by assuming most of the audience won’t get it and turns itself into a feminist lecture rather than a lament.

 

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I agree with your review, Ken. For me, Mindy Kaling's performance salvaged the movie, so I ended up on the positive side. Also, having just seen Men in Black: International, I enjoyed comparing/contrasting Emma Thompson's suiting choices. But yes, it could have been better.

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This is a weird film. It assumes that millennial identity politics are the solution to the death of comedy, rather than its cause, for starters. And the Emma Thompson character... well, I'll just quote what I wrote at Facebook:

Is it just me, or does Late Night require some huge suspensions of disbelief? (In the negative, Tolkien-esque sense of the expression, where a fictitious story has failed in its world-building -- has failed in its ability to *create belief* -- and so you condescend to the story by suspending your disbelief.)

On one level, the story seems to be taking place in the real world, because people make explicit references to real-life talk-show hosts like Seth Meyers and Jimmy Kimmel. But it's also a story in which Emma Thompson plays a British woman who was given her own high-profile late-night talk show on American television at the age of 27 circa 1990 -- so, just before the time when Jay Leno and David Letterman, both of whom were in their 40s at the time, were competing to see who would inherit Johnny Carson's throne, while up-and-comers like Arsenio Hall and Dennis Miller were already in their mid- to late 30s. Joan Rivers was the first woman to host her own late-night talk show in the late 1980s (at a time when she was in her late 50s and had been guest-hosting for Carson for over 20 years), but her show didn't last very long, whereas the Thompson character's show has been on the air for 29 years when the movie begins (which is nearly as long as Letterman's 33-year run from the 1982 premiere of Late Night on NBC to his last episode of The Late Show on CBS in 2015; Leno was the host of The Tonight Show for most of the 22-year period between 1992 and 2014, except for the year between 2009 and 2010, when Conan O'Brien was the host because it was felt that Leno had been on for too long).

Ordinarily, one might be able to roll with this premise, *but* the movie makes a big deal of how sexist the comedy subculture is and how things need to change... but the movie's very premise, that a super-young woman (and a foreigner, to boot) got her own late-night talk show circa 1990 and has kept it on the air for three decades, kind of undermines that insofar as it imagines a far more "progressive" starting point than exists in the real world.

And that's just the beginning of the film's problems...

(Side note: This isn't a major issue or anything, but the film begins with the Thompson character receiving an American comedy award and cracking a joke about how they're giving the award to foreigners now, and then she says something like, "Was Martin Short not available?" But Martin Short is, of course, Canadian, not American.)

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